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COA rules police can act reasonably to control investigation scene

December 30, 2011

Police were justified in handcuffing a woman who they felt was a safety risk inside her home during an investigation, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Marvelean Williams v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1105-CR-418, the court affirmed a decision by Marion Superior Judge Barbara Collins involving a woman arrested in January 2011. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officers were dispatched to the home of Marvelean Williams to investigate a domestic disturbance. They arrested her husband for battery, and Williams became belligerent and refused to follow orders to stay seated. When she tried to go into the kitchen, police were concerned she might try to get a knife or weapon, so they placed her in handcuffs for their safety. She resisted and was charged with resisting law enforcement, a Class A misdemeanor. At a bench trial she was found guilty.

On appeal, Williams argues that there is insufficient evidence that the officers were lawfully engaged in execution of their duties when they were inside the home. She doesn’t claim the police were unlawfully inside and doesn’t dispute their investigation of a domestic dispute, but she contends that they didn’t have the authority to order her to stop resisting and stay calm.  Although a previous Court of Appeals ruling from 2007 doesn’t discuss the extent of an officer’s power to control the scene while conducting an investigation, the appellate panel found this situation with Williams presented more of a safety risk than that case. The court found she was actively interfering with their investigation, and they had a right to restrain her.

“Williams has not cited any authority to convince us that the officers acted unlawfully when they handcuffed her for safety reasons while they conducted their investigation, and we are not aware of any such authority,” Judge Terry Crone wrote. “Police have a legal right to take reasonable steps to stabilize a situation such as this during the course of their investigation. This is so for both the safety of the officers as well as the citizens present.”

 

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